As the World's Best Safari Company, we can confidently say that one African adventure steals the spotlight every time: the Great Wildebeest Migration. This remarkable event is celebrated as one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World, making it a highly sought-after African experience. With over two million animals embarking on an ever-moving circular journey through the Serengeti National Park and Maasai Mara National Reserve, it's an unparalleled, once-in-a-lifetime encounter every wildlife enthusiast should have on their bucket list.
What is the Great Migration?
The Great Wildebeest Migration, also known as the Gnu Migration, takes place annually in Tanzania's Serengeti and Kenya's Maasai Mara reserves when over 1.5 million wildebeest, 200,000 zebras, and countless antelope migrate in search of fresh grazing grounds and water. This being said, the animals do not form a single herd. Instead, they break up into mega-herds, consisting of thousands or hundreds of animals at any given time.
Contrary to popular belief, the Great Wildebeest Migration does not just take place from July to September when thrilling river crossings occur. It is actually an ongoing, year-round mass movement spurred by the East African rains. The epic journey follows an 800-kilometre-long, clockwise route, starting from the southern plains of the Serengeti, crossing treacherous rivers like the Mara River, and returning for the annual calving season, completing an ancient cycle of survival and renewal – an unparalleled display of nature's grandeur, often hailed as 'the greatest show on Earth'.
When and Where to See the Great Wildebeest Migration?
Deciding when to book your safari is probably the biggest factor when planning your trip. You certainly don't want to arrive expecting to see vast herds of animals only to find empty plains – not that our Rhino Africa Safari Experts would EVER let that happen.
Throughout the year, the stunning landscapes and flourishing wildlife of the Serengeti and Maasai Mara offer highly gratifying safari experiences. The nomadic herds roam tirelessly in search of greener pastures. And, guided by ever-changing weather patterns, every year offers a unique experience as the herds traverse different territories. So, here is a general guideline for Great Wildebeest Migration over the course of the year.
January – Mid-March
The calving season starts in January. During this time, the mega herds primarily gather in the southern plains near Ndutu and the Ngorongoro Conservation Area. This incredible event sees over 8,000 wildebeest calves being born each day, attracting predators and their cubs, creating an awe-inspiring display of life and survival amidst the vast wilderness of the Serengeti.
The calving season continues until mid-March, with the herds giving birth to their young in the southern plains of the Serengeti. As the weeks of intensive grazing pass, these regions begin to show signs of strain and dryness. Typically, the long rains make their entrance in either mid to late March or April, propelling the Great Wildebeest Migration towards a northwesterly path, accompanied by their now stronger offspring.
April – May
Between April and May, the Great Migration moves towards the Moru and Simba Kopjes in central Serengeti. You'll witness most of the herd in huge columns as they migrate through the Western Corridor, tracking the Mbalageti River until the Grumeti's banks are reached.
This is usually where the first river crossings occur – an exciting spectacle to witness! However, seasonal rains make it tricky to follow the herds. Therefore, many of Tanzania's smaller camps also shut down due to impassable roads.
June – July
The rain stops, which prompts wildebeest and zebra to make their way north and form bigger herds. This an eventful period as the rutting season peaks, with testosterone-fueled male clashes vying for the chance to mate with receptive females. During this time, the Western Serengeti is the best place to watch them.
As the Great Wildebeest Migration moves north, the herds come across their first big obstacle, namely the Grumeti River. This river can be quite deep in places, making drowning a real possibility. Moreover, opportunistic crocodiles wait hungrily for this to happen so they can swoop in for a quick meal.
August is the prime time to witness the breathtaking river crossings as the herds embark on their trip from the northern Serengeti into the Maasai Mara.
The western Serengeti plains start to turn yellow, urging the herds to head north. They move through Kenya's Lamai Wedge and the Mara Triangle before they flood the lush Mara plains. But another obstacle awaits – this time, it's the Mara River, also brimming with crocodiles.
At this stage, the herds split into smaller groups. Most travel to Kenya's Maasai Mara to graze on the lush green grass, while less than half of the animals remain in the northern Serengeti.
Though you can still spot animals in the Serengeti, as a general guideline, September is the prime time to witness the Great Migration in the Maasai Mara as predators are abundant such as cheetahs, lions, and hyenas, on the hunt in the area.
While the Maasai Mara remains a top choice for this stage of the Great Wildebeest Migration, keep in mind that it is a smaller reserve than the vast Serengeti, leading to more visitors.
Neighbouring private conservancies offer a less crowded alternative, ensuring you still witness the Migration while directly benefiting the Maasai communities with their rich heritage. Moreover, you can indulge in off-road game viewing, night drives, and walking safaris, which are prohibited in the national reserve.
In a typical year, the onset of the short rains triggers the wildebeest to depart from the depleted grasslands of the Maasai Mara and return to the revitalised Serengeti.
The herds will be in motion during this time and are often visible in the northeastern and central regions of the Serengeti, where they may split up into smaller groups as they embark on their southward journey. However, it's essential to note that the timing of the rain can be unpredictable, with the possibility of being late or early.
After the recent rains, the herds have now reached the southern Serengeti, where the plains are lush and fertile. There's more than enough grass for the animals to graze on before they start again for the calving season in January, before embarking on another death-defying 800km journey.
Witness the Great Wildebeest Migration in Person
The beauty of the Great Wildebeest Migration is that it occurs year-round, with massive herds constantly on the move in search of greener pastures. But please remember that this is a general guideline of the herds' locations throughout the year, considering that the entire Great Migration hinges on unpredictable rain—arriving early, late, or on time.
The Wildebeest Migration is a year-round, circular journey. Although events like river crossings cannot be predicted, they generally occur between May and September. Sometimes the herds stay put for two weeks. But other times, they could cross four times in one day! This makes it essential to plan a more extended safari, as a brief visit won't guarantee to witness your bucket list sightings.
Where to Stay on Your Great Migration Safari
Experience Front-Row Seats to the Great Migration
A well-designed East Africa safari can put you right in line with the action. Our Rhino Africa Travel Experts know exactly when and where to be for the best sightings. For the best chance at securing your spot, we advise booking as early as possible because camps and lodges start filling up more than a year in advance. Start planning your Great Wildebeest Migration safari now!
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